Boston Red Sox

First pitch: Tazawa a revelation for Red Sox

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First pitch: Tazawa a revelation for Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- September is supposed to be a month for evaluations, a time to take stock of how far prospects have come and how far they have to go.

In the case of the Red Sox, two of their most important pieces -- catcher Ryan Lavarnway and shortstop Jose Iglesias -- have struggled more than they've starred.

Iglesias, who has been brilliant in the field at times, has just two hits in more than 30 plate appearances while Lavarnway has, at times, appeared overmatched both defensively and offensively.

Then, there is the case of Junichi Tazawa.

Tazawa is not as inexperienced as Iglesias and Lavarnway are, of course, having first pitched in the big leagues in 2009. But that was before Tommy John surgery cost him all of 2010 and a chunk of 2011, too, sidelining his career before it got started.

In the second half of the season, however, the 26-year-old has been a relevation. Monday night, in the Red Sox' 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Tazawa came in for the seventh and retired the side in order, two by stirkeouts.

In 30 games this year -- most since Aug. 1, his third stint with the club this season -- Tazawa has a 1.43 ERA, and a tidy 1.06 WHIP. He's averaged more than a strikeout per inning and showed impeccable control, walking just five in 37 23 innings.

And the more he's pitched, the more dominant he's been. Over his last eight appearances, he's allowed just two baserunners -- a single and a walk, with 14 strikeouts over 7 23 scoreless innings. In each of his last four appearances, he's had multiple strikeouts and has allowed no more than one baserunner. Dating back to 2003, the only other Red Sox pitcher
to have such a run of dominance was Jonathan Papelbon.

Of the last 40 hitters Tazawa has faced, he's fanned 19 of them.

"You can't throw a ball any better than he's throwing it," said Bobby Valentine. "It's impossible to throw it better -- it really is."

His velocity has not only rebounded from the elbow surgery; it's actually gotten better. Once, Tazawa's fastball was regularly in the low 90s; now, he is routinely in the mid-90s.

"The confidence is definitely there, along with some good nerves,'' said Tazawa. "Each at-bat, I focus on each pitch, each at-bat and the results have been good. Before I had Tommy John, my elbow used to just swell up a little bit, and I wasn't able to throw the way I wanted to. I wasn't hitting the velocity I knew I was capable of.

"Right now, I think I'm finally starting to pitch the way I want to, reach the velocity I want to and the results have been there."

Tazawa's dominance has resulted in Valentine using him in more high-leverage spots. Often, he's been the seventh inning set-up option, used an inning before Vicente Padilla is entrusted with the eighth.

Monday night, after Rich Hill tossed a scoreless inning in relief of starter Aaron Cook, it was Tazawa who got the eighth.

His work this year may make him an integral part of the 2013 bullpen, but he's taking nothing for granted about his future.

"My role to be prepared whenever I'm called upon,'' he said. "I don't worry about when I'm throwing. I'm more worried about just being prepared whenever it is. I haven't really thought about next season yet. I'm more focused on finishing this season strong and being prepared whenever I'm called upon this season."

Tazawa, who started in Japan and did so again briefly when he first reached the big leagues with the Red Sox, said he'd be open to going back to the rotation, but said that is still to be determined.

"I just came back and I'm still proving myself right now," Tazawa said. ''It's just focusing on the task I'm given at the moment and make sure I produce the results that the team is expecting from me."

Drellich: Injuries for Betts, Pedroia, Nunez, unnerving in final week

Drellich: Injuries for Betts, Pedroia, Nunez, unnerving in final week

BOSTON — Even before Mookie Betts wrist flared up and Eduardo Nunez re-aggravated his knee Monday, the Red Sox’ health situation looked tenuous heading into the final week of the regular season. Particularly when it came to position players. Dustin Pedroia was out of the lineup Monday after a 1-for-26 road trip.

Now the scene turns scary. Consider that every other American League team that has clinched a postseason spot (or in the case of the Twins, is expected to) is one of the majors’ top five teams in runs scored per game: the Astros, Yankees, Indians and Twins. The Sox are 10th. 

The Sox lineup lacks firepower to begin with. Losing any more at this time of year is a recipe for a rough October.

"It sucks. It sucks," Nunez said. "Especially this time of year when it's close to the playoffs. It sucks."

The regular-season results show the Sox have adapted well overall when guys like Pedroia and Nunez have missed time. But that’s the regular season, and adding Betts to the mix is just disquieting.

MORE:

Nunez on Monday returned to the lineup for the first time in 16 days. Now he isn’t expected back until during the Astros series, his right knee injury re-aggravated

But there’s room for good news yet. Betts is to get his left wrist examined Tuesday. A positive prognosis there, and there should be a sense of a crisis averted. On Monday night, he expected to be fine, but he also didn't know what was going on. 

Farrell before the game made clear Nunez wasn’t exactly full go yet.

“[His return is] quicker than what it possibly could have been. You’re talking about a ligament damage to the PCL [posterior cruciate ligament] and I know it’s less severe than an ACL/MCL, but still it’s about pain tolerance,” Farrell said. “It’s about managing it. His body has to recondition to take care of that. His muscles have to respond in a different way. … If he feels a little bit of a zinger, that’s going to go away. He’s not putting himself at further risk.”

Farrell said after the game the feeling is Nunez didn’t do any new damage, but nonetheless, it’s easy to think now the Sox should have waited longer

Meanwhile, Pedroia’s been managing a left knee injury all season and didn’t play.

“When the knee starts to talk back to him a little bit, we’ve all got to listen to it and give him a down day,” Farrell said. “I would expect him to be back on the  field tomorrow.”

Farrell thought it reasonable to connect the knee to Pedroia’s recent poor performance hitting wise.

All year, resiliency has been a buzzword for Sox because of their propensity for late-inning comebacks. Sunday’s eighth-inning rally against the Reds was the latest example, leading to the Sox’ 42nd come-from-behind win. 

How they’ve dealt with a variety of health situations adds another layer to their reputation for handling adversity. Per spotrac.com, the Sox have had the fifth most disabled list days this season, 1,601. 

The Indians were doubted going into last year’s postseason because of health situations with their pitching. They did pretty well. But it’d also be foolish to minimize the importance of injuries to Pedroia, Nunez and Betts, and how they look heading into October.

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Mookie Betts to get left wrist examined Tuesday

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Mookie Betts to get left wrist examined Tuesday

BOSTON — First Mookie Betts right hand was bothering him. Now his left wrist is acting up to the point he was pulled from Monday's 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays in the eighth inning and is headed for an exam to find out what's going on Monday.

"I’m not really that concerned. I think I’m  going to be fine," Betts said. "Just a couple days ago. I just took a swing and felt it. It’s just been kind of painful for swings, but that’s just the part of the season."

Betts felt it again on a swing Monday.

Betts, who's always a calm guy, didn't seem to be particularly worried. But when he was asked to describe the sensation, it sounded far from pleasant.

"Just like a sharp pain," Betts said. "I can’t really move my hand for a little bit, but I think, again, I don’t really know what’s going on. We’ll find out tomorrow."

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